Nepal reported 2,020 new Covid-19 infections in the past 24 hours, a new record in the daily detection of the virus. With this, the national tally has reached 61,593 while the death toll stands at 390 with seven deaths on Friday.
The dramatic surge in the number of new infections occurred on the second day after the country lifted restrictions on markets, offices, and people’s mobility. Even as Covid cases continued to surge, the government was compelled to open up after a five-month-long lockdown. Public transport, shops, offices, domestic flights, and long distance transport have consequently resumed from Thursday.
The country fared slightly better on testing as there was a small increase in the number of daily PCR tests, from 10,641 on Thursday to 11,458 on Friday. The prevalence rate, however, was significantly high on Friday — with an increase from 11.7 percent to 17.6 percent. The active case count stands at 17,383, and experts warn that this indicates that there will be a huge surge in the number of cases in the days to come.
Nepal has not radically boosted daily PCR tests, despite recommendation from experts. Instead, the government is planning to introduce antigen tests for mass surveillance as the number of Covid-19 cases have begun to spread at the community level. Public health experts are divided over the introduction of antigen tests due to questions around the reliability of the test. “Cases have increased significantly, which is why we need to opt for an alternative to PCR tests for quick screening at a mass level,” said Dr Rabindra Pandey, a public health expert.
Pandey, however, expressed skepticism over the quality of the antigen kits. Earlier on during the pandemic, Nepal imported RDT test kits from Wondfo Company, a Chinese manufacturer which was not even approved by China. Much later, Nepal decided to extend PCR tests while stopping RDT tests only after immense public pressure.
Trends in Kathmandu Valley show a worrying scenario. The valley recorded 859 new infections — including 698 in Kathmandu, 79 in Lalitpur and 82 in Bhaktapur districts — which make up 42 percent of all new confirmed cases on Friday. Dr Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population, said that Covid-19 cases are on the rise, particularly in urban areas, mostly in Kathmandu, Pokhara, and cities in the plains.
“We have noticed that people have started organising rallies and protests which will prove disastrous. The daily detection rate of the virus suggests the situation is getting worse,” said Dr Gautam. But he did not mention anything about how the mobility of the public is affecting the spread of Covid after offices and markets have opened, especially as the public has not been following safety protocols while showing a general distaste for masks.
“Even if the public wears masks, they remove their masks while talking to us,” said Sanjib Upadhyay, a bank employee. “How many times can we ask them to use masks? After a certain point, it’s no longer polite.”
People have also been seen shopping in markets as Dashain, the biggest Hindu festival in Nepal, is just around the corner. But hardly anyone is maintaining the two metre distance protocol issued by the ministry. The government has altogether failed to create an effective strategy to counter the virus, resorting instead to making unbinding requests to the public to follow safety measures.
“We request all to not step out of their homes, particularly those who are above 60 years, have diabetes, hypertension, comorbid conditions, lung problems, respiratory problems, or are undergoing treatments of cancer and dialysis,” said Dr Gautam during the press briefing on Friday.